Days later (and a trip to Chicago behind me) — here are my thoughts on attending Madonna's Madame X premiere in NYC on Thursday, September 23:
When I first heard about the premiere, I felt I needed to try hard to go since it was happening the night before my trip to Chicago for Boy Culture: The Series, which felt like kismet, a good, never-used title for a Madonna album.
I asked and I entered the Facebook contest that required uploads of a Madame X-themed secret agent profile pic on the app. Did I mention I am a middle-aged man? If I'm planning to live past 100? But I did it just in case, and was rewarded with a golden ticket by her fan club Icon. I've been a member from Day 1 in 1990, back in the era when we received fan-club magazines like this:
... which I recall reading in class while at college. But I digress.
I was chosen, and got the email from Icon, as did my friend and my Encyclopedia Madonnica 20 and MLVC60 collaborator Anthony. I would say we did not win the contest so much as we were invited guests thanks to past tithing. At any rate, we knew exactly who to thank, and it wasn't our lucky stars.
I didn't really think much about it until it was about to happen. We both were running around looking for what to wear. I usually think wearing Madonna merch to a Madonna event is a little on the money, but I had a custom-made shirt with Madonna and her late gay bestie Martin Burgoyne that felt different, so wore that under a black jacket that surprisingly still fit me.
We were supposed to check in at the Paradise Club inside the Times Square EDITION (701 7th Ave.) beginning at 8 p.m., so it of course rained. I wouldn't pay $50 for an Uber to go 12 blocks, so wound up pretty soaked — and not with holy water, or even so-called holy water — and staked a spot across the street under some construction since I wasn't sure when we would actually be allowed inside. Anthony was on the subway.
There was a healthy crowd outside the EDITION in the rain. Madonna's social media had invited people to come out and compete for the title of the best photo taken. I suspected the rain would make that contest a shit-show, or that Madonna wouldn't even pause; the plan, according to rumors, had been that she would appear between 8 and 9, greet fans and unveil her Madame X digital billboard, which takes up the upper floors of the EDITION facing Times Square. I did not see that happening, and it did not happen.
Instead — though I had since met up with Anthony and headed inside — I found out Madonna arrived and walked in. It was certainly enough time for the fans at the front to get an eyeful of her outrageous attire (I kinda loved the FUCK YOU tiara) and bask in the glow, but she did not interact or sign autographs or unveil the billboard, which went live once I was inside.
Above: People snarked that Madonna couldn't walk. It was the dark glasses, guys.
Inside, we had our phones confiscated by Yondr (certain fans smuggled in recording devices, natch) and were asked to provide proof of COVID vaccination (I'm skeptical that everyone really had to do this, so was nervous) and went up to the Paradise, which is an amazing venue — and amazingly tiny. I recall being wowed by Madonna's MDNA Tour Epix premiere at the Paris because it was such an intimate space, yet the Paradise was about half that size, and had far fewer seats. I believe the Paradise fits 300 people standing, so when we peeked in, there looked to be 100 or so chairs plus seven or so roomy booths. We felt special.
Right away, I spotted Liz Rosenberg, Madonna's former publicist, who is an icon in her own right. It had been years since Madonna and Liz worked together, so it was a joy to see her. She sounds happy and looks marvelous. I almost didn't recognize her without her deelybobber antennae she always wore when Madonna did red carpets!
Others on hand included Drew Barrymore, Steven Klein, Christian Siriano, Antoni Porowski, her boyfriend Ahlamalik Williams, her sons David and Rocco, Isaac Calpito, Monte Pittman (he told me he's about to perform live with Ministry), artist Slava Mogutin, filmmaker Bruce La Bruce, some models and dancers and a number of people involved with the tour. Madonna's dog arrived at the end of the after-party!
We were seated in the third row. We asked for first row, but were told we couldn't sit together, which wasn't exactly true, because as time went on, the front rows remained pretty empty and Jerry Rojas — a nice fan and a professional publicist apparently hired as ancillary PR for the event — was rushing around switching the seating to move as many fans forward as possible. It was as the night wore on that a batch of hardcore fans suddenly showed up, and the impression I got was that due to the rain, there had been cancellations, so famous fans were called in since they (we) were more likely to react to the movie that was about to be screened.
Regardless, we were at the party, and were close!
Sometime close to 1o p.m., Madonna blew in, hugging Liz warmly when Liz surprised her from behind with a tap — a moment I'll never forget, and the first of several OMG! flashbacks during the evening.
Much has been made of Madonna's preem look. I would say it was a harsh look and not my favorite (I did love the black bustier — her boobs looked happy), but it was also a perfect example of Madonna having looked every way possible and deciding to throw a curveball. I think people forget that while she is the Queen of Pop, she is not the embodiment of pure pop, possessing the DNA of rock and, more importantly, punk. Debbie Harry is exactly like this — she can and does often show up looking glam, but will occasionally show up in something head-scratching that would kill Mr. Blackwell, if he were not already dead.
Madonna was, however, clearly in a good mood from square one. She walked a bit down the short aisle between the seats and talked about how important Madame X is to her, thanked us for not having phones and instructed us to get comfortable. She did not want us getting up during her nearly two-hour film, which is a reasonable ask. (So the two A-holes behind me placed their feet on my back and also got up and left for extended periods twice, taking their lives into their hands.)
Madonna sat in a booth at the back of the rows of chairs with Ahlamalik, Klein and others as the Madame X experience flooded over us.
The movie is out on Paramount+ from October 8 — let me know what you think!
Once the movie ended, Madonna was introduced by our hostesses Aquaria (a bona fide Madonna scholar, in spite of her youth) and Symone (who — gulp — attended her first Madonna concert on her 21st birthday ... and it was Rebel Heart) and did, live in front of us, a top-secret project. Stay tuned.
Once this ended, Madonna cheerfully instructed us to take 15 because the room would be converted into a disco for her after-party — and contrary to my fear that we wouldn't get to stay, we were all invited. The staff simply removed all the chairs and rolled up the carpet, hit the lights and DJ Vashtie started spinning.
As we killed time, waiting for Madonna to return (it took maybe an hour, during which time we got our phones back!), Madonna songs were playing and I was desperately hoping to see her dancing to her own work. Instead, when she did emerge, she plunged into CeCe Peniston's “Finally,” grinding with a young woman who I believe is Rocco's GF as Ahlamalik — and a roomful of starstruck partygoers — watched in awe.
Madonna's after-party look was 100x cuter than her red-carpet look! I loved the skirt and the darker colors. She looked more alive and happy, and absolutely like herself. Any issues she had with her hip seem to be history — Madonna moved like the old Madonna, and it gave me good memories of all the footage of her dancing at AIDS Dance-a-Thons.
She danced frequently throughout the night, moving through the room with just a couple of guards nearby. Madonna, unlike so many stars of lesser stature, really is incredibly accessible. No, you were not going to walk up to her and say hi-eee, but she was next to all of us multiple times. I did this and I noticed it in others: when she would suddenly be standing next to or in front of you, you'd sort of freeze and give her space. At one point, she was about to stroll across the floor and I found myself doing a sort of sweeping, after-you gesture.
When she did an impromptu shoot in her booth, flooded in light, giving double middle-finger gestures, it felt like a distillation of her essence. Glad I was right there and able to capture it.
Anthony's footage of Madonna dancing is reminiscent of her track-date moves, or even the Everybody music video!
Vashtie was relieved by DJ Questlove, and Madonna made sure to personally greet him. She watched intently when Teezo Touchdown performed (his headpiece of nails scared me, but she spoke to him, thrusting her face near it fearlessly) and especially when a vogueing troupe was onstage. The latter was the third major OMG flashback! moment of the night, as one of the dancers was none other than the supremely gifted José Gutierez Xtravaganza, her Blond Ambition and “Vogue” dancer who was with her when she was first hearing about vogueing. She was glued to his performance, and did her own arms-only vogueing once encouraged by the dancers from the stage, but it seemed to me she was careful not to step on their moment by, for example, jumping up there with them.
Adorably, she later danced with José. It was like no time had passed since 1990. We all brushed up on our “Queen's English” that night.
Madonna also danced to Inner City, to Diana Ross (mouthing “Upside Down”) and to “I Can't Wait” by Nu Shooz, along with other dance tracks I wouldn't be able to readily ID.
Most excitingly, she danced with both of her sons, Rocco and David (who was decked out in a blue suit Mom had worn to Craig's in April), including some vogueing. Ahlamalik was right with them, and seems to get along great with her kids. She and Ahlamalik are totally devoted. Watching Madonna watch him dancing in my videos, it's clear she's still very much in love. I know some disapprove, but they looked very right together, and he only had eyes for her.
I am prominent in the video above, lol!
It was exhausting keeping up with Madonna — she bumped into us at one point — and gauging whether to have fun or stay glued to her (which do you think won out?). Plus, I had a 7 a.m. flight that next morning to Chicago.
I was grateful when she finally, at 4 a.m., said her goodbyes.
Dead, frazzled, I stumbled home, grabbed my bag, got into an Uber and went to the airport. For the first time since college or ... ever? ... I never slept that day, and wound up flying to Chicago for my event. But I was high on Madonna, and so for the next day, I was coasting on my Ciccone youth.